Why I Love the Wildscape (Plus Acorns)

by Carolyn Henderson

If you like to work amid a plethora of flowering native plants while guineas, turkeys, chickens, and kitties hang out with you, the Bird and Bee Farm Milam Wildscape is the place to get some volunteer hours for Texas Master Naturalists. Several members of El Camino Real Master Naturalist started the place, with the help of the property owners. They have planted mostly Texas native flowering plants, and with the help of donations from the birds, it has bloomed galore in the one and half years it’s been going. It has grown so fast (bird poop is effective) that it requires tending and controlling. 

At the invitation of Donna Lewis, I went out a few weeks ago to be introduced to it with a few other chapter members. It was an amazing thing to see. Cathy Johnson is the primary contact person, and she and other chapter members have held some teaching events for kids over the last year. They also staff it some Saturday mornings for anyone from the public who’d like to stroll through it. 

Malabar spinach before

It does need care. I took on an attempted control of a Malabar Spinach vine that is taking over a metal archway. The arch is meant to be walked through, so some pruning is called for regularly. It’s a beautiful plant with dark green leaves and pink flowers. It’s also edible. I haven’t tried it yet. I’ve included some before and after pictures. Other jobs include turning on the sprinklers and turning them off while you get some pictures, or dead heading plants among other jobs.

That plant is way more in control now.

It also is an excellent place to repurpose things. For example, many of the borders around the different beds are old rain gutters. I used an old wicker basket for decorative purposes on the pruning of the spinach vine. The bottom of it was rotted and no longer usable for its original purpose. It’s also a great place to get photos of butterflies and bees.

Doesn’t the basket look nice?

Contact Cathy or Donna if you’re interested in lending a hand and earning volunteer hours. It is located on CR 334, Rockdale, 76567. 

As for Acorns

Holey acorns

On an unrelated topic, I have attached a picture of some acorns with holes. The students and members who attended our last class Thursday, October 1 may appreciate the find after hearing the video by Dr. Doug Tallamy and his love of caterpillars and moths.

I found them in my flower bed. They have been there a year. Every single one had the holes in them that indicate nesting, as Dr. Tallamy explained.

THIS Is How You Vacation

by Sue Ann Kendall

My little company held its Board retreat near Wimberley last weekend. I was pretty excited when I found out we’d been booked into a ranch with over 100 acres. I was even more excited when I arrived and realized I knew the area pretty well from having been on retreats nearby in a previous life stage. I immediately formulated a plan to get as much Master Naturalist activity in as I possibly could. That’s my idea of fun, I guess.

As soon as I put down my suitcase and got oriented by the property owner, I set off. I didn’t set off very fast, though, because I was doing a BioBlitz! My goal was to see how many different plants, insects, etc., I could identify from Friday through Sunday. The layout of the land was very helpful in this pursuit, because there were huge meadows full of prairie broomweed and friends, deep oak and cedar elm woods, a creek, hills, valleys, and lots of limestone formations. I made over 50 iNaturalist observations that afternoon.

Some of the things I saw the first day.

When I got back, we sat on the screened porch and watched hundreds of butterflies floating by. They were small, so I knew they weren’t monarchs (I did see three of them during the weekend). I looked on Facebook and saw that my Chapter member friend, Dorothy Mayer, had suggested I join the TX-Butterfly Facebook group. So, I did, thinking I’d at least learn something about SOME butterfly. Imagine my surprise when the first post I saw was describing the migration of the American Snout butterfly! There was my answer!

American snout butterfly, sitting still for once. Photo from news article linked below.

I later came across an article on it in the news, so you can read more here.

The rest of my weekend was a blast. I hiked all over the property, which used to be a ranch, then a resort, then part of it was a disc golf course, etc. There was a sunset tower to climb, hidden meeting areas, lighted paths, and really pretty cattle. Quite a place. It would be a fun Master Naturalist retreat area.

On Saturday, we avoided the incredibly crowded Wimberly Market Day (not many plants to observe there, anyway), and instead we visited the Jabob’s Well park. Jacob’s Well is the second-deepest artesial well in Texas, and it’s really beautiful. Apparently people keep drowning when they try to explore its caves, so I stayed on the shore. I was glad to be there AFTER swimming season, too.

Jacob’s Well

I met some young Park Service staff who were just keeping an eye on things, and they were fun to talk to. They told me to be sure and go find the sign saying how much work Master Naturalists had donated to the visitor center and gardens.

Way to go, Hays County TMN!

Of course, I made some more observations there, especially in the prairie restoration area. There were so many beautiful native grasses to see.

This must be last year’s grass, but it was so pretty (switchgrass).

I enjoyed finding plants that were new to me or seemed rare, as well as old friends (one dandelion, just one). What made me happy, too, was discovering that of all the iNaturalist sightings in the area, only three were by someone other than me, so I did good work documenting what I saw. Maybe it will help someone, sometime!

In the end, I added well over 100 observations to iNaturalist, saw the work of fellow Master Naturalists, met some people at a distance, avoided crowds, and had some fun. That’s a perfect vacation in these times of social distancing!

Birding Software Discovery

By Sue Ann Kendall

I’ve been having fun this weekend doing iNaturalist observations near Wimberley. I made over 100 observations and had a blast. I’ll share more about that later this week.

I’d seen some interesting birds, too, but was unable to get any photos other than this one.

Black vultures. Out of a screen window.

The black vultures were enjoying an armadillo across the road, and I got to listen to them croaking away, as well as to listen to their wings as they flew. Ah, peace and quiet.

Anyway, I was watching some little birds catching bugs and wondered what they were. It was hard to see through the screen, and I’d forgotten my binoculars. So, I fired up Merlin Bird ID, from Cornell Labs.

Sure enough, I realized quickly that they were little blue-gray gnatcatchers. I hit the “Yes, this is my bird” button and it asked me if I wanted to record it on eBird or your Cornell Labs Life List. Why, yes, I would!

Added to my brand-new list.

Those of you who use eBird might find this really handy. I love the Merlin software, because it helps you narrow down birds to ones that should be where you are and of similar size, color, and habit. That makes ID fun!

Here’s the starting screen.

Since there must have been dozens of phoebes, I made sure to record that one, too.

It’s cool that it shows you a map of where you are.

The Cornell folks also use the data we report for their research, but I don’t think it goes into the eBird database unless you report it to that account. I guess I should change over to get more hours, or maybe this way will count. They only added this feature this month!

This app is much more fun now! It’s great for beginning and intermediate birders. Recommend it to your friends who want an easy way to keep a life list.